Adam and Evolution: Praying, Going to Church, and Ancient Creeds Won’t Help

No, I am not against prayer, Jesus, the Bible, etc., so you can delete that comment you’re writing.

I am saying that when it comes to dealing with Christianity and evolution, you have to deal with some data, namely scientific and historical.

I am reacting here to an approach to the Christianity/evolution debate that I have seen raising its head and gaining some traction over the last year or so. The most recent example that comes to mind is an article in Christianity Today by Jamie Smith of Calvin College (“What Galileo’s Telescope Can’t See,” September, 2012).

Though by no means the lone voice in this trend, Smith is emerging as a champion of an approach that, I feel, is almost entirely unhelpful, and if taken too far, will simply make the problem far worse.

The general argument Smith gives voice to goes something like this (I am also collapsing into this some of Smith’s earlier comments on the matter; see responses here and here):

1. Evolution is not as pressing an issue as some might think. It is certainly not a “Galileo” moment, as some are saying. Yes, the church was reluctant at first to come to terms with the scientific evidence confirming a heliocentric solar system, much to its embarrassment. But the current reluctance on the part of [conservative Protestant] Christians to accept evolution is an entirely different matter.

So, don’t raise the specter of Galileo as a means to guilt, strong arm, or shame the church into accepting the implications of evolution for a historical Adam.

2. The reason for #1 is that threefold:

(a) The evidence for evolution, though present, is still a matter of debate, and so we cannot be sure there was not a first man, at least in a theological sense (as opposed to a first biological man).

(b) The evidence of mythic creation stories from ancient Near Eastern, i.e., the world of the Old Testament, though interesting, cannot play a significant role in our interpretation of the biblical story of Adam. Such data are culled from the world of biblical scholarship, which errs in focusing solely on the human context of Scripture. Christians who wish to hear to voice of God, by contrast, need to read the Bible from God’s perspective, i.e., by reading it according to the intention of the “divine author.”

(c) Most importantly, the huge difference between evolution and heliocentrism is that the latter is not central to the Christian faith, whereas the historical Adam is. Hence, the two should not be compared and we cannot use the lessons from the time of Galileo to speak to the current moment.

3. The solution offered is likewise threefold:

(a) Since or theology needs an Adam, don’t rush to judgment by accepting the scientific or historical evidence. Be patient. More data could be brought to light that will affirm Christian doctrine, so don’t cave in to the myth of neutral scientific progress.

(b) A key dimension of the posture of patience is to maintain an active life of prayer and worship in the grand tradition of the church. This involves accessing the ancient traditions of the church, i.e., the early Church Fathers and the early ecumenical creeds.

(c) Perhaps most importantly, Christians must remain centered in Christ, which for Smith seems to mean that proceeding by faith that all things–including evolution–are “held together in Christ.”

Let me say, so that there is no misunderstanding, that patience, prayer, church tradition, Christ-centeredness, and engaging in worship as an act rather than simply reducing one’s faith the life of the intellect are very important to me, and nothing I say here should be understood otherwise.

However, the call to worship, etc., is misplaced because it obscures what is in fact an intellectual issue, the evidence for which is, frankly, overwhelming and has been “patiently” assessed (both the scientific and ancient Near Eastern evidence) for going on 200 years now–which raising the question of at what point patience crosses the line to obscurantism.

One of many things that concerns me about this train of thought is that it gives the impression of theological depth. And I will say on certain levels this is true, at least when compared to the “fundagelicalism” that I feel Smith and I are both reacting to in some sense.

Still, at some point, the way forward Smith claims–the life of prayer, liturgy, and engagement of the “Great Tradition”– must also come to terms with science and history, and offer a way forward that genuinely engages the evidence rather than tables it.

After reading Smith’s article, though, I was still left wondering, as I always am when I read such things,

“OK., but what do you do about Adam vis-a-vis science and history? And be specific and clear, showing us that you understand and take with utmost seriousness not only your own theological requirements but the evidence.”

This question requires one of two answers: (1) Here, specifically and knowledgeably, is why the evidence is not compelling, or (2) here, imperfect and provisional as it may be, is how I bring together the world of my faith and the evidence.

But, if in that moment an appeal is made to patience, prayer, and worship–well–it rings a bit hollow. One might get the impression that this is only a slightly more sophisticated version of circling the wagons such as we find in Answers in Genesis. Calling on the church to “theorize imaginatively and creatively” by “retrieving the wisdom of ancient Christians” sounds wonderful–even sophisticated and promising–but: show me. Talk about the science and the history. How is your theology in concrete conversation with these things?

As it stands, it seems to me that the theology Smith is giving voice to does little more that provide theological language that gives us permission to avoid the problem rather than face it, while giving the impression that in doing so we have achieved some higher level of theological sophistication.

That, in a nutshell, is my deepest concern in all of this.

So, to sum up:

To be sure, as Smith claims in the title of his CT essay, there are things that “Galileo’s telescope can’t see.” Indeed. But there are some things it can see–such as the footprints of evolution and the nature of ancient creation myths. Theology that obscures these things is part of the problem, not the solution.

I do think #3 a, b, c above are vital elements of the Christian life, but they most certainly do not provide either the answer to a way forward for addressing the genuine and pressing problem of evolution vis-a-vis Christianity.

As for #s1 and 2, both of these misrepresent the gravity of the moment and minimize the persuasive nature of the evidence we have at hand for those conversant with it. 2b is a particular concern of mine, in that it seems to suggest that one can access the mind of God by rising above the particulars of history. In my experience, such claims are too often found on the lips of those who confuse their theological system with “what God is really after.”

Others of us, including many biblical scholars, would like to continue thinking that, in some sense, God’s voice is seen in the vicissitudes of history that the Bible presents–despite the challenges this raises–rather than at some safe distance from them.

That would be a truly prayerful, liturgical, worshipful posture in my opinion, and the mystery of the incarnation points us in that direction.


  • Justin Boulmay

    Whenever I hear someone say that the evidence for evolution is still a matter for debate, my first thought is, “Who else, other than Ken Ham and YECs, are challenging it?”

    • Alex Oh

      Earlier I accepted evolution solely based on the trust that scientists much smarter than me in their domain we’re doing quality work critiqued by peer review, which I think is fine. I didn’t understand the details of evolution. Strangely, just this past quarter they offered a bioinformatics elective in my computer science department and it sounded interesting so I took it. It’s crazy how just a basic understanding of the central dogma of biology (DNA -> RNA -> Protein) can help you to see how DNA or protein sequences align, and how amazingly well conserved certain proteins are across certain species.

    • Oompa_Loompa_of_Science

      You should challenge it yourself! Do you have so much faith that an conversion by armchair philosophers in the UK during the American Civil War is “enough”, no further evidence needed?

      Look at the study (click my name) released Nov 26, 2012. Mosaic evolution is now the new punctuated equilibrium. The evidence is murky at best for a Darwinian explanation for what we see.

      • Mike

        1. “Armchair philosophers”? You mean “scientists”? What we now call “science” was called “natural philosophy” back then. Maybe that’s your source of confusion.

        1.b. Even if they were armchair philosophers (or racist child molester drug addicts, for that matter) that wouldn’t affect the veracity evolutionary theory.

        2. “…during the American Civil War”. Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” wasn’t the last word on evolution, it just got things started. The theory of evolution has been refined and modified through over 150 years of harsh scrutiny and examining the evidence. Trying to use Genesis as science is a contradiction. Scientific theories are adjusted or discarded when they don’t explain the evidence.

        3. “Mosaic evolution is now the new punctuated equilibrium. The evidence is murky at best for a Darwinian explanation for what we see.” Again, I think there’s confusion here about how science works. Scientific theories are adjusted as more evidence comes to light. That’s a good thing. It means they tend to get closer and closer to a precise explanation.

  • Gordon Tisher

    Amen. We can only deal with what evidence we have now; saying “we’re pretty sure that future evidence will turn up that supports our position” is hardly honest.

    Just wanted to say what an inspiration your books and this blog have been to me. Keep up the good work!

  • Craig Vick

    I read Smith’s argument differently. I don’t find in it a conclusion (God’s perspective) but rather an encouragement to approach the debate with the analogy of Chalcedon rather than Galileo. I don’t see a call to ignore evidence or a call to simply wait things out.

    • peteenns

      Craig, I appreciate your point very much. As I mentioned briefly in the post, I am collapsing here another online post of Smith’s that fleshes out, in what I consider a revealing way, his point of view. I gave a hyperlink text for that piece, as well as Daniel Kirk’s reaction and a brief reflection from me.

      • James K.A. Smith

        Yes, do follow the links, Craig. And please provide any quotations that substantiate what Pete attributes to me in (2) above. Good luck!

        • Craig Vick

          Dr. Smith, my comment below was posted before I read your comment above. I think it is the better part of wisdom for me to back out of this discussion and let you speak for yourself.

      • Craig Vick

        I apologize. I missed the hyper links and only read the CT article. Ironically, when I posted my comment I got a WordPress error saying that I posted too quickly. I’m sure that’s a bug, but there’s much truth in it in a way not intended by the software developers.

        I still read Smith differently, but I admit my reading is murkier than I’d like. The key is to note that Smith writes ‘meanings’ where we might expect ‘meaning’. I don’t see him as dismissing what we might call the historical meaning. Rather, he argues there are other ways to read the text (other meanings) which take into account Divine authorship. These other readings (by Paul, the church) aren’t a-historical.

  • DMH

    This is a little off topic (sorry) but I have been searching and not finding. I am looking for material which engages the subject matter of this blog from the perspective of this blog (Scripture, evolution, ANE, science… and how it’s all related)- on a jr. high and sr. high school level. Can anyone help me out?

    Admittedly I do not have a lot of time for searching these things out, but I have found a glut of good (in terms of its engagement with kids) material from the YEC perspective but next to nothing on this side. The YEC crown seem to understand that, in part at least, the future of Christianity lies in what we pass on to our children. Imagine the “faith crisis” due to science and history being a thing of the past. Thanks to anyone who can help.

    • peteenns

      I’m not aware of anything like that, DMH, but maybe someone else is who is willing to comment.

    • Matthew B

      I haven’t checked it out personally, but I suspect that this is the sort of thing you might find helpful:

      I believe (not sure I’m remembering correctly) that the folks at Biologos were saying nice things about it.

      • peteenns

        I forgot about that Matt. A good place to start, I think.

        • DMH

          Matt, thanks. I’ll be checking that out. Pete, I know you have done some childrens curriculum in the past- ever consider taking on a project with this subject matter in mind, or encouraging others to do so? Just seems like we are putting out a lot of fires (faith crisis) because because we are not starting early enough. Again, sorry for being off topic.

  • James K.A. Smith

    Someone just pointed me to this, and my reply is very simple: what you attribute to me, I’ve never said. So rather than respond to anything like my argument, you’ve created the straw man of some “approach” of which I am supposedly a representative. You summarize that “approach” in (2) above.

    The problem, Pete, is that I’ve nowhere said anything that you allegedly summarize about my approach under (2) above. So I’m afraid this is an adventure in missing the point.

    • peteenns

      Jamie, you are most certainly representing an “approach” to this matter: Theological Interpretation. You wouldn’t deny, would you, that you are an advocate for what you feel is a better way forward on the science/faith issue that is captured by that term? As to my summary in point #2, I am a bit perplexed that you feel misrepresented, that what I ascribe to you (and perhaps to the approach you represent) is not accurate. I would be very interested in how to interpret you here. Do you mean to say that we now ARE in a Galileo moment, after all (2c), or that historical criticism and evolutionary theory ARE determinative of whether we can speak of a first man (2a, b)? If your view differs from what I represent here, I am all ears to hear it.

      Personally, I am most interested to hear your view toward historical critical biblical scholarship (which is not to be equated with atheistic or unbelieving) in general and Genesis vis-a-vis ANE religions more specifically (given your Colossians Forum post that I linked). What positive role, if any, does historical critical biblical scholarship play in how one does creative theological thinking about Adam? Does it have a seat at the table or is it more a nuisance? On the science side of things, Lee’s comment above anticipates somewhat my own. Do you suspect that evolution is not really a solid theory but more the product of, say, unbelief or that the scientific consensus stems not so much from evidence but from a failure to perceive that all knowledge, all science, is perspectival?

      • James K.A. Smith

        I certainly am a proponent of “an approach.” And it can be fairly described as “theological interpretation.” But that approach is NOT summarized by what you encapsulate under (2). The burden of proof is on you, Pete, to show where I have said anything like either (2a) or (2b). And by proof I mean not vague claims and attributions but quotations with references. Until you do so, I don’t see myself obligated to provide any further reply.

        And regarding (2c): you need to read my CT article again more carefully, especially the first two paragraphs. I’m talking about how the “Galileo” metaphor functions when it is invoked, not whether or not we are at a crucial time for Christian reflection. Your reading of my CT article is sloppy. The result, I’ll say once again, is a straw man you’ve erected and then falsely attributed to me. And nothing you say in this reply above has actually addressed the substance of my claims in my first comment.

        I will have more to say about the constructive alternative in the future. But right now we’re talking about whether the “approach” you have described here can be attributed to me. It cannot. If you’re not willing to acknowledge that, I’m at least hoping your readers can see it for themselves by looking at the evidence (as Craig Vick has done above).

        • Chris

          For fairness’ sake, I saw your objections and decided to check them out as an interested reader. So here’s a direct juxtaposition of his claims in (2) and your own words:

          (a) The evidence for evolution, though present, is still a matter of debate, and so we cannot be sure there was not a first man, at least in a theological sense (as opposed to a first biological man).

          You write: “And yet Enns seems to revive a version of [NOMA] in order to “solve” the (“perceived”) tension between evolutionary accounts of human origins and the biblical understanding of human origins.”

          By your use of scare-quotes to doubt the efficacy of Enns’ work, you clearly mean to imply that there is a contradiction between Christianity and evolution. Given that you are a Christian and hold this belief, then you imply what Peter says you imply here in (2a).

          (b) The evidence of mythic creation stories from ancient Near Eastern, i.e., the world of the Old Testament, though interesting, cannot play a significant role in our interpretation of the biblical story of Adam. Such data are culled from the world of biblical scholarship, which errs in focusing solely on the human context of Scripture. Christians who wish to hear to voice of God, by contrast, need to read the Bible from God’s perspective, i.e., by reading it according to the intention of the “divine author.”

          You write: “Note who populates the terrain of biblical interpretation here: Genesis (or the “authors of Genesis”), Paul, and us. Does it feel like anything is missing? Or Anyone?”

          This is pretty clearly what Enns stated. It is perhaps worthy to note that this is where I stopped taking your article seriously.

          (c) Most importantly, the huge difference between evolution and heliocentrism is that the latter is not central to the Christian faith, whereas the historical Adam is. Hence, the two should not be compared and we cannot use the lessons from the time of Galileo to speak to the current moment.

          You say: “Unfortunately, that’s just not the case [that we can be open to the idea of a different origin of sin than the Bible's historical Adam]. Because if we don’t have an account of the origin of sin we will end up making God the author of evil—a thesis that has been persistently and strenuously rejected by the orthodox Christian tradition.”

          Essentially, you argue that if we don’t have a historical Adam, God is the author of sin, and we can’t have that, now, can we! I agree, though I find it an ironic sentiment coming from someone in the Reformed tradition (you don’t have free will, but sin is still your fault). Where we depart from each other, though, is that I don’t think God has to tell us where it actually came from.

          Yet I depart from you further in suggesting that a metaphorical view of Adam does an EVEN BETTER job of accounting for sin than does the original sin narrative. In the metaphorical view, we see that Adam’s sin came from his desire to make a name for himself, to give himself power, which is essentially the narrative of the Deuteronomistic history. Under the metaphorical view, it’s not about the specific, historical origin of sin, but rather it suggests that sin originates within our own desire for power outside of what God grants.

          The Reformed tradition is exceedingly incapable of handling such a view of the origin of sin, because it claims that our desires originate from God instead of from our free will which allows us to order our desires; therefore, sin is still God’s fault under this narrative. With limited free will, though, we are free to say that man is the origin of sin when his desires are out of order.

          Anyhow, Enns’ depiction of your work is quite fair. I’m not sure what led you to give such an impassioned reply.

        • Beau Quilter

          Mr. Smith,

          You clearly are someone who knows how to take offense easily; why not show that you know how to have a meaningful discussion.

          Thanks to Pete’s reference, I read your CT article (never would have seen it otherwise). You don’t seem to say much of substance. Basically you say that analogies are often are used to bias arguments (of course they, and everyone uses them), and then proceed with a vague diatribe against the analogy that our time is a “Galilean” moment. We should learn from our forefathers at the Council of Chalcedon.

          A little correction for you. You call the Council of Chalcedon “our fourth century forebears”. If the council took place in 450 AD, then they would actually be our FIFTH century forbears – just as those of us born in the 1960′s were born in the 20th century.

          You praise the Council of Chalcedon broadly without saying very much about what they actually did – besides refocusing discussions of religion and science on Christ. You use that wonderful theological term “Christological” which sounds so deep, but says so little.

          Then you give us your banal play on words – we should use the true “Galilean” analogy, i.e. focus on the man from Galilee.

          How about offering Pete Enns’ readers a real discussion of the issues that Enns raises. Because if all you have to say is “I didn’t say that, so I won’t deign to reply.” Well, then fine. Don’t reply. We can only assume you had nothing of substance to say anyway.

  • David

    Things demonstrably evolve over time when they are living. Certain creatures that are around today demonstrably did not live in different periods of Earth history, and Earth is demonstrably much, much older than a mere 6,000 years. When Earth was 6,000 years old, nothing was here.

    Why the Church continues to bicker and fight and choose to make their last stand on the hill of the literal Adam is a mystery to me, especially when you consider that the hill upon which the early Church chose to die (and stand up again) on was Calvary. In other words, the only things that absolutely must be true scientifically and historically for the Christian faith to be true are that Jesus of Nazareth was a real flesh and blood person who lived, was truly and bodily dead, was buried, and then was truly and bodily alive again. This is the only thing which makes or breaks the Christian faith in terms of science and history, and it is high time that the Church learned it will catch far more flies with honey (concession and intellectual honesty) than with vinegar (literalism and fundamentalism).

    • Barb

      The conception, miracles and resurrection of Christ cannot be scientifically proven therefore how do you know that they are scientifically true? As such, if you are basing your faith on what is scientifically proven, then Christianity is a lost cause for you.

      John 1 tells us Christ created the world. If He used evoluttion to do it, then He had to have used millions of years of death to get us where we are today. So tell me, why would He come to die on a cross for something He created in the first place? Christ stated that “from the beginning He made them male and female.” Did He get it wrong about what He did?

      Christianity is not about catching flies or sinners by accomodating Scripture to tickle the ears of the listener. It is about confronting sinners with their sinful state and need of a Saviour.

      • peteenns



        Do you really think that I and the MANY other people who are creationary evolutionists are so stupid as you portray us to not know Bible verses or to insinuate that we’ve never thought about the implications of all this?

        The answer to your first question–which has been asked and answered many, many times–is that Jesus’ miracles, resurrection, etc., are NOT OPEN TO SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION because they leave no footprints that are discernable by scientific methods. How old the earth and universe are, how life appeared and developed on our planet, the shape of the earth (round, not flat as the BIble assumes), the sun as the center of the solar system (not the earth as the Bible assumes) ARE OPEN TO SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION because they DO leave FOOTPRINTS.

        And no, that doesn’t mean science is over the BIble and can tell us everything about reality–just some things, things that are open to scientific investigation.

  • Joy F

    I was raised in the evangelicalism that lifted up Answers in Genesis, through Christian schools (Abeka curriculum, in which I was taught only how to refute evolutionist arguments) etc. After college and grad school however, the evidence against just kept mounting. I never seriously questioned my faith throughout the disillusionment mainly because of one writer that I had been devouring for years.

    I was also raised in an Assemblies of God church. The A/G has no doctrinal stance on the issue, but did have a significant library of books by C.S. Lewis. Through college I read Problem of Pain, Miracle, God in the Dock etc. Lewis’s arguments for myth and reason sustained my faith even as my mind wouldn’t let me continue to believe in Creationism.

    Because I was offered a different idea, another way of thinking, my faith survived unlike many of my friends who were raised similarly. I have since found many other authors besides Lewis, but I do look back and see the hand of God in those books being in the library at church. There is a great need for reasonable conversation and discussion on the issue. How many others could have kept their faith if they only knew there were other ideas than the ones they were taught?

    • Patrick

      I share pretty much the same upbringing as you, though my church (also A/G) was very pro-AIG AND Kent Hovind (he did a weekend seminar with us once). My mother however, very privately expressed to her doubts in YEC, talking to me about the valdity of some of the ideas that men like Dr. Enns supports. Ironically, I also went to an A/G college (VFCC), and though I took only one science course there, what I learned from hermeneutics left me more at ease with rejecting YEC. The tone on campus wasn’t hostile toward theistic evolution, though very few people wanted to enter into a discussion of that nature (though when AIG paid us a visit and linked evolution to racism, people were pretty outraged). Discussions like this need to happen, but people need to chill out first.

  • toddh

    I tend to agree with Enns that this approach is a problem, and Smith in that what Enns lays out here doesn’t fairly characterize what he is saying (at least in the links provided). So, I guess I’d like to hear from Smith some kind of positive, constructive solution. The CT article and Evolution of Adam review seem to mostly critique biblical scholars and scientists for not being sufficiently theological enough in their prospective solutions. What is an example of another way forward that takes seriously evolutionary theory and the stories of scripture, while retaining God as the acting subject and author of scripture, and also incorporating relevant insights from Christian tradition?

    • peteenns

      This is a good way of putting the question.

  • Lee Meadows

    I see Smith’s response here that Peter missed his point, and I look forward to following that exchange. As an evolution educator and Christian, I do agree with Peter’s nutshell concern (“permission to avoid the problem rather than face it, while giving the impression that in doing so we have achieved some higher level of theological sophistication”).

    Smith says, “When we construe current debates about human origins in ‘Galilean’ terms, we rhetorically position ourselves as if the implications of common descent were ‘as obvious’ as the earth revolving around the sun.” Well, they are. The scientific evidence for common descent is clear and compelling, and it continues to pile up. The sheer amount of evidence for evolution is staggeringly greater than that for the Copernican revolution.

    Smith also errs, though probably not intentionally, by concluding that science is some kind of slippery, postmodern attack on the truths of Christianity. When he says, “The church will find gifts to help it think through postmodern challenges by retrieving the wisdom of ancient Christians,” he seems to be equating the evidentiary base of science with postmodern philosophy where each of us gets to choose our own truths. Science simply doesn’t work that way, and invoking the word “postmodern” sidles up closely to appeasing Christian culture where postmodern equates to evil.

    Smith appeared to question my commitment to Jesus of Galilee, and the commitment of other science-oriented Christians like me, because I do see the issues before the church as a Galilean moment. That concern me. But, I wonder if Smith really understands the scientific side of the moment we live in.

  • Bryan

    Should we also return to a Patristic interpretation of women and the Scriptures by “retrieving the wisdom of ancient Christians”? These interpretations are not only patriarchal but a bit loopy as well. I think that the main problem in this debate is that theologians/philosophers do not appeal to the same material as OT biblical scholars. The former maintain their perspectives with such a highly theoretical/philosophical approach while OT biblical scholars evaluate the culture in which Genesis was written. It would behoove Smith et al. to interact with the Hebrew language as well as extra biblical material before coming to an exclusively philosophical answer.

  • Eric Kunkel

    I think Mike link adds a great deal. I don’t disagree with anyone above really. We know so little. Theology cannot be the Regina Scientarium neither can the latest paper on Evolution.

    I had a great discussion with a colleague of mine on the new Lamarckianism, epigenetics and how all this effects phenotype, which in the end is more important to all of us than our genome. Not really downplaying that either. Go get your’s tested for Christmas. Everyone should know their own genetic polymorphisms.

    I am glad we are where we are. We should be comfortable that our paradigms shift more quickly now in this technological age. Our world-views are becoming more like cell phones or IPads. You need to overthrow them, in Kuhnian terms, we need scientific revololution to be more acceptable. Buy an insurance policy on you IPad, in case your Gorilla Glass is not so strong. Buy one on your weltanschauung, it may not be so durable as advertised either.

    There is no Queen of the Sciences, Theology, Genetics (epi or append the Greek preposition of your choice.) There is search for meaning, which can be disconcerting when the data and theories come at you at the speed of light.

    New light makes me glad: In this the Season of Light shining in the darkness.


  • James

    As the debate on evolution heats up there are many variations on the theme being played. The late professor S. J. Gould’s punctuated equalibrium is one, Simon Conway Morris’ convergent evolution is another–fascinating implications from a theistic point of view. In fact, recent studies in cosmology, particle physics and genetics (to say nothing of ancient literature) may contribute to the rise of a new natural theology promising to enrich our understanding of both the natural world and the world of the Bible. So let’s quit being so suspicious of truth scientifically attained and use it rather to strengthen our grasp of untimate reality. Surely this is a theological quest worth undertakeing!

  • Phil Russell

    Dr. Enns,
    It seems you dis-believe the Bible at a deep level. If Genesis isn’t true, there’s no original sin, no federal headship of Adam, no need for a savior. Why don’t you just go ahead and abandon Christianity altogether?
    Like the serpent in the garden, your entire program seems to be to say to the faithful, “Did God indeed say…?” Now no one can judge the state of your soul except God, but you demonstrate quite a bit of unbelief, which the Bible condemns as sin. You’ve already received many admonishments from the church regarding the destructiveness of your program. Having ignored them, perhaps now you should consider the state of your soul as manifested in your attitude toward God’s Word. “By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come.” WCF XIV. ii. Be honest, does this describe your life? Perhaps a little trembling would be in order.

    Phil Russell

    • peteenns

      Proverbs 26:4

      • Phil Russell

        Cute. Instead of a straight answer, you offer this quip. Thus it always seems to be with you liberals. Whenever the argument gets down to brass tacks, you evade rather than responding with a reasonable argument. Ironic that you have such a high view of human reason that you hold it in authority over God’s word, yet when it gets down to core issues, you resort to mere cleverness.

        • peteenns

          Question 143: Which is the ninth commandment?

          Answer: The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness
          against thy neighbor.

          Question 144: What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

          Answer: The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the
          preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good
          name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for
          the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully,
          speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and
          justice, and in all other things: Whatsoever; a charitable esteem of
          our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name;
          sorrowing for, and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging
          of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving
          of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report,
          concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers;
          love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need
          requires; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of:
          Whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

          Question 145: What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?

          Answer: The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all
          prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as
          our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence,
          suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil
          cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence,
          calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the
          work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the
          wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause,
          and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from
          ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or
          maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in
          doubtful and equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or
          justice;speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting,
          tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial
          censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering,
          vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of
          ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating
          smaller faults;hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to
          a free confession;unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false
          rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears
          against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the
          deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing
          in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration;
          breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good
          report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering:
          What we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.

          • Phil Russell

            Well, this is my first venture into the Ennsian hall of mirrors, and I’ve learned that what they say is true. It’s no place for rational discourse. Raise a straightforward issue and receive a diversionary non-answer. Reminds me of Lewis’ depiction of the demon world in The Screwtape Letters.

          • peteenns

            With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters this ought not to be so.

          • Phil Russell


            I’m beginning to see how the game is played here. Rather than responding directly to the other side, we are to blithely toss scripture/confessional references at one another, with the implication that the other party is the “bad guy” in whatever is being quoted. OK, I can do that. For starters how about:
            Matthew 7:15
            John 8:44
            2 John 1:7
            2 Timothy 3:5
            Luke 21:8
            2 John 1:10-11
            Matthew 24:4
            2 Timothy 3:16
            Revelation 21:8
            James 3:1
            Acts 17:11
            John 14:6
            Matthew 24:1-51
            Matthew 23:27
            Matthew 7:13-14
            Matthew 16:1-28
            Deuteronomy 18:10-12
            Deuteronomy 17:2-5
            1 John 4:11
            1 John 4:2-3
            1 John 2:22
            1 John 1:9
            2 Peter 3:16
            1 Thessalonians 5:21
            Colossians 1:18
            1 Corinthians 12:13
            1 Corinthians 2:13-14
            John 1:1
            Mark 16:16
            Matthew 28:19-20
            Matthew 16:18
            Malachi 2:10
            Daniel 9:24
            2 Kings 23:5
            Deuteronomy 4:19
            Revelation 16:13

          • peteenns

            You seem to have ignored my last comment asking you to establish your premis, Paul, which tells me you are either not interested in a true exchange (which requires an openness on your part to change), or you have a very different idea of what “reasonable” means. Either way, perhaps you can now see why my first response to you was Proverbs 26:4. I wasn’t trying to be “cute” as you said, but citing a bit of true wisdom that, in such moments, has been confirmed in my experience more times than I wish to recall.

    • AHH

      One might ask Phil Russell whether the parable of the Good Samaritan is “true”.
      It seems like some people these days have a much narrower view of how God is allowed to communicate truth (in the case of the Adam/Eve story, among other things the truth of human sinfulness and how we disobey God’s call for us) than Jesus did.

      • Phil Russell

        Re: How God Communicates Truth
        This matter has been addressed over and over throughout church history, and the conclusion has always been the same: God reveals Himself up to a point through general revelation, but more particularly through special revelation, i.e. His word. See WCF I. Contrary views come and go, but this orthodox framework remains because it is the only view that is consistent with scripture. Are you saying that in these latter days there have arisen new means through which he communicates? If so, what are they? Is there some new source of inspiration? Has the canon been re-opened?

        • peteenns

          Phil, you argue in the manner of the Truly Reformed. You begin with an assertion posed as having universal–nearly eternal (since I assume you feel God himself thinks as you do)–validity, which happens to align with the theological distinctives you cherish, and then ask your opponent (for that is what I appear to be to you) some, frankly, childishly leading questions, which connote, “Why in heaven’s name doesn’t he just see the light and repent of his sins?”

          I have studied too much church history, history of Christian thought, and history of Christin biblical interpretation to grant your hyperbolic premis. If you wish to have a reasonable exchange, as you claim, then establish your premis.

        • AHH

          Phil R.,
          Boy, you really missed my point. I’m not disagreeing with your framework of general revelation and special revelation. But you seem to be saying that, at least in the case of Genesis, that special revelation can’t be “true” unless it is literal history by modern standards. A criterion that would mean Jesus did not teach truth.
          My point is that God has used many different literary genres to communicate truth within the canon of Scripture (special revelation), so that those of us who think the genre of the Adam/Eve story is something other than literal history are not demeaning God’s word, just interpreting that truthful word differently than you might.

    • hopaulius

      Phil: Is it impossible that God, in somehow communicating with humankind through the necessarily flawed human vessels who actually told tales and wrote things on stone and parchment, might make use of a literary genre other than literally factual narrative? Is it impossible that your personal preference for the definition of the word “true” limits God in ways that God does not intend? Is it impossible that in your absolute denial that the Bible might contain any other sort of information than literal historical and legal narrative, you are utterly failing to understand the Bible?

  • Bev Mitchell

    I don’t have time to read all the comments right now, so this on only in response to your fine article. Bev

    “……a slightly more sophisticated version of circling the wagons such as we find in Answers in Genesis.” Well said Pete. This “Let’s just be really good Christians and pretend nothing is going on” approach is becoming a fallback position in other areas as well. I just finished reading the chapters by and exchanges between Greg Boyd and David Powlinson in Beilby and Eddy’s “Understanding Spiritual Warfare”. Boyd lays a number of things on the table that really must be considered and then considers them (well, in my opinion). Powlinson criticizes not only Boyd’s conclusions but says basically what you say Jamie Smith is saying. We should be very good Christians (who can argue with that) – and hope this other stuff will all go away (it won’t because it can’t).

    Maybe this is the last line in what has been a twisting and turning defence of a reading of Scripture that needs serious work. I’d be interested to know why you feel this approach may make the problem far worse. It’s singularly unhelpful, yes, but cannot those who wish to do so just bypass it? While continuing to be very good Christians as well, of course.

  • Matthew F

    Hello Peter,

    First off I don’t presume to know a lot about evolution or the science behind it. The problem that I have with the whole debate is this: If the starting point and the ending point is Christ, then what does any of this matter? What I mean is, why do we get so worked up about this debate? Both sides seem so worked up over this that we loose what is most important….and that is the love of Christ. It seems that both sides live out of fear that the other side might actually be right. Isn’t our role as Christ followers, to trust Christ. I don’t want to bury my head in the sand and deny anything, but at the same time it just seems like such a waste of energy. I agree that fundamentalist Christians do them selves no favors when dealing with such matters….but that’s the point why do we even try? I realize that Christ gave us a mind and it’s good to question sometimes, but what about, it’s not up to us to prove either way! That’s the holy spirit’s job! Evolutionist’s seem to use their arguments to disprove God and Christians use creation or “Adam and Eve” to disprove evolution and prove the existence of God. Then, it seems you guys as “Christian evolutionists” don’t want to look dumb to the evolutionists so you agree. But it all seems to be done out of fear. Jesus stayed silent when he was questioned by accusers. Why is it wrong for us to stay silent and just point to Christ?

    • peteenns

      I appreciate the question, Matthew. But, agreeing with evolutionists is not for feae of looking “dumb” but because it is true, which in the minds of some (not me) causes unbearable tensions with what Paul says about the first man in Romans 5. I do agree about trusting Christ, but the intellectual issues need to be sifted through nonetheless.

  • Mark Lickliter


    I want to ask honestly: Is there temptation in the world of academia to come up with new and novel ideas in order to be accepted? It almost seems that for all of church history no one was able to truly understand God’s Word until you came along and set everyone straight. I am reading your book right now and honestly trying to wrestle with your arguments. I understand the need to understand the culture in which the Bible was written in order to aid in our understanding, but can this be taken too far? Is it at least possible that you have taken it too far? If so, are you leading numerous people astray? I notice that you have written a book for children, so what if your premise is wrong and you are leading children astray? What about the millstone that Jesus talked about? Is it truly worth it? Worth being wrong? What is the most positive fruit that you have seen from your new and novel understanding of Scripture? Also, does the Bible itself command us or point us in the direction of such study? (ie: ANE literature, cultural contexts, etc.) What chapter? What verse tells us we must understand these things in order to understand the text? Does the average person have to have a degree in ANE literature to understand the OT? Do you think that it is possible that God sovereignly ordained that Scripture be written in such a way that it transcended all cultures, times and places in order to accommodate us or do we need to read your book first? I am honestly asking these questions and not trying to pick any fights. It just seems that there is an inclination on your part to view ANE literature and science with more weight than the Bible itself. As far as the analogy of the 2 natures of Christ and its relationship to Scripture, it seems that the analogy falls apart very quickly. Christ’s human nature does not sin, but only does what is pleasing to the Father. It would seem that you suggest that the “messiness” of Scripture is its imperfection, but Christ is perfect. If we have imperfect Scripture, then your analogy is proven imperfect as well. However, if Scripture has imperfections how do we determine where they are? With our “perfect” ability to locate them in light of studying ANE literature? Sorry I threw so much at you. I completely understand if you don’t address it all. Thanks for giving me something to think about and I hope I do the same.

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